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The Tigris river, known as the Dijlah, has always been a conduit for more than water. Along with its sister, the Euphrates, it formed the eastern bound of Mesopotamia and irrigated some of the earliest civilizations on earth. For 7000 years its cycles of flooding have created seasons of plenty and scarcity, and at natural ports and confluence points major centres of power and influence grew. Political capital flowed up and downstream with the products of the ancient commercial world.
Many of those settlements of the old world are still industrial hubs; cities like Mosul, Baghdad, Samarra and Basra. Today almost 30 million people live in the watershed of the Tigris, but now the river faces existential threats on multiple fronts. Since the 1970s Turkey has built 16 new dams on the upper reaches and, with another 6 to come, the construction has already reduced the flow of water to Iraq. Dams in Iran and inside Iraq too also contribute to a significant change in the waters of the Tigris on its way south.
Meanwhile temperatures rise, and so too does reliance on increasingly sparse resources. Combined with over-consumption and aging water management systems, the Tigris may run dry before it reaches the Gulf. Millions of people’s homes and lives are at stake. Another result of the drying of the river, and the increased brackishness of the estuary, may be the death of the southern marshlands. There, since the time of the Sumerians, the Marsh Arabs have maintained a unique way of life, settling in reed-built huts and using water channels to travel between their herds of buffalo. The land often said to have been the Biblical Garden of Eden survived intense persecution under Saddam Hussein, but now its fate is tied to that of the river that feeds it.
This project tells the story of the uncertain future of the Tigris, and places it in the context of modern Iraq and the wider region.
Find the full series here: https://www.emilygarthwaite.com/dijlah [password: tigris23]
A farmer walks on the cracked dried earth beside the Diyala river which is one of the five main tributaries of the Tigris In recent years the water by his home has become stagnant poisoned and is no longer even able to be used for his animals His son recently got caught in the quicksand that formed by the bank and had a rash all over his body so now the family stay clear of the river altogether
Four sisters plait each other s hair in the town of Kut Their father is a fisherman and one of many in the area seeing dwindling catches br br
In the Hawizeh Marshes where the water was once several meters high boats now regularly get stuck churning up the sewage-infused silt
A toxic river canal in Jaykur village remains stagnant along the Shatt al-Arab river after the Euphrates and Tigris rivers meet
Shia pilgrims rest in the women s quarters of Imam Ali shrine in Najaf during the Arba een pilgrimage
Toxic waste at a Petroleum derived pitch factory lies the banks of the Tigris beside a brick factory
The Central Bank of Iraq designed by the renowned Iraqi-born architect Zaha Hadid under construction on the banks of the Tigris River in Baghdad